Let's compare two statements made on the floor of the U.S. Senate, and you tell me which one is more offensive:
This is U.S. Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) this afternoon (transcript via Ezra Klein, who's apparently on some "cool kids" email list that I have yet to make):
I don't know if there is a cause-and-effect connection but we have seen some recent episodes of courthouse violence in this country. Certainly nothing new, but we seem to have run through a spate of courthouse violence recently that's been on the news and I wonder whether there may be some connection between the perception in some quarters on some occasions where judges are making political decisions yet are unaccountable to the public, that it builds up and builds up and builds up to the point where some people engage in - engage in violence. [Senate Floor, 4/4/05]
Now if you ask me, that's not much of a ringing defense for the rule of law. In fact, that sounds like an apologia for terrorism against officers of the law. If nothing else, it's hardly a condemnation of violence against judges, and an appalling statement from a member of the nation's highest law-making body.
Now, compare Cornyn's statement to this:
Many times in our history we have taken up arms to protect a minority against the tyrannical majority in other lands. We, unlike Nazi Germany or Mussolini’s Italy, have never stopped being a nation of laws, not of men.
But witness how men with motives and a majority can manipulate law to cruel and unjust ends. Historian Alan Bullock writes that Hitler’s dictatorship rested on the constitutional foundation of a single law, the Enabling Law. Hitler needed a two-thirds vote to pass that law, and he cajoled his opposition in the Reichstag to support it. Bullock writes that “Hitler was prepared to promise anything to get his bill through, with the appearances of legality preserved intact.” And he succeeded.
Hitler’s originality lay in his realization that effective revolutions, in modern conditions, are carried out with, and not against, the power of the State: the correct order of events was first to secure access to that power and then begin his revolution. Hitler never abandoned the cloak of legality; he recognized the enormous psychological value of having the law on his side. Instead, he turned the law inside out and made illegality legal.
And that is what the nuclear option seeks to do to Rule XXII of the Standing Rules of the Senate.
That's the statement by Democratic Senator Robert Byrd (aka the protector of the Senate's escutcheon) that got the right wing all riled up and helped them rope in the Anti-Defamation League's Abe Foxman so he could wag his finger and say "tut tut, legitimate allusions to history that involve Nazis aren't fit for polite society." I would have told Senator Byrd to avoid the reference to Nazis, not because it wasn't apt, but because it would be so easy for the wingers to make histrionic mischaracterizations of what the Senator actually said. But the substance of what he said was fine, and Foxman's condemnation of Byrd was not a high point for the ADL.
Why do I compare these two statements? Because, regardless of whether one thinks Byrd's reference to the history of Nazi Germany was appropriate, you would have to be stupid or dishonest to think he wasn't affirming the primacy of law as the means to ensuring the rights and security of all Americans. What is John Cornyn, a former state attorney general, saying about the rule of law? By my reading, he's saying he doesn't give a rats ass about seriously upholding laws that protect the integrity and safety of our judiciary unless judges stop issuing decisions that might frustrate some members of the general public. What he's expressing is essentially a
terrorists will be terrorists "boys will be boys" attitude about people who kill officers of the court, or the kind of "you have to understand he was abused as a child" stereotype of liberal explanation for why murderers kill that conservatives love to lampoon. The difference between that stereotype of liberal causality and what Cornyn said is that the liberal stereotype is simply explanatory, where Cornyn's comment borders of approval.
I wonder how long it will take Abe Foxman and the rest of those who slapped Robert Byrd's wrist for having the temerity to make a legitimate historical comparison to criticize John Cornyn for not defending the principle that we're a nation of laws, not terrorists?